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Malnutrition is a pervasive problem in refugee communities and access to halal food, even more so.

Often food aid is thrown from planes landing in isolated areas or in rough terrain. Even if aid does reach its intended target, low literacy rates mean refugees have difficulty understanding the food’s edibility and certification. This problem is even more pronounced in Muslim refugee populations, where food should be ‘halal’ – prepared in accordance with Islamic law – in order to be permissible to eat.

Salma is a global halal food relief programme set up by HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, created with these challenges in mind.

The programme took its name from the UAE’s first nurse, Salma Al-Sharhaan (1934-2014), a pioneering figure that paved the way for other Emirati women to join the profession. Inspired by Al-Sharhaan’s commitment to serving people, we chose to adopt her values – caring yet strong, determined yet humble – to create the new brand.

Rethinking Packaging

The goal of a food-packaging project would ordinarily be to stand out on a supermarket shelf. But in Salma’s case, it was about much more. It was about survival. Competition and brand positioning were irrelevant because people had no alternative to choose from and so, we had to rethink the purpose from the refugee’s perspective.

Usually, food aid packaging is delivered in large, plain sacks with aid agencies and their country names featured prominently on the front.
We decided to put the refugee first, and dedicated the front of the pack to information pertinent to their needs.

We then chose easily recognisable animal and plant iconography as the primary design language, signalling to anyone, anywhere that the pack contained food.

It also became clear that in times of hardship faith often acted as an anchor, fortifying people with a sense of hope. It was important to find a solution that would protect these values. Therefore, we decided the ‘halal’ certification take priority in the visual hierarchy.

The vibrant colour palette was chosen to enable the pack to stand out in any terrain. Also, after the food inside was eaten, the spirited and bright colours of the pack were meant to give a small but vital uplift.

The back of the pack was designed with aid agencies in mind. Technical information such as the nutritional value, government partners and expiry date was highlighted to build trust, credibility and to communicate quality.

What makes our product special is that you just open and eat. It solves the problem the UN faced, as the food they distributed needed to be cooked. Many disaster victims have lost their houses and don’t have the means to cook food.” Hussain Al Qemzi, Chairman of AMAF, (the Awqaf and Minors Affairs Foundation)

The packaging technology is the same as NASA’s space age packs, which preserves food for up to 3 years, ensuring the food survived long and arduous transit paths and arrived fresh and ready to eat.

From Salma, to donors

This Ramadan we helped build more awareness of Salma through a campaign that focused on bringing forth Salma Al Sharhaan’s values of humility and empathy. Our aim was to shift the focus of those fasting from hunger to a state of fullness, gratitude and generosity.

We prompted people to purchase a meal for a refugee whenever they felt hungry, encouraging them to reflect on the blessings in their life. The campaign videos have over 30,000 views on YouTube and the campaign is now being driven forward via a social media campaign.

Delivering the goods

In August 2014, the first plane touched down in Gaza carrying 200,000 Salma meal packs. During 2015, Salma plans to send another 230,000 to broaden its impact and at the same time build sustainable partnerships with key organisations including the UN Food Programme and Dubai International Humanitarian City.